Recovering from the brutal attack of the Nighthawks, our intrepid heroes returned to the abandonded tenement to investigate the body Li saw in the bed, only to find that it was a fake made to resemble Garwan the dwarf propietor of the Curiosity shop. Further searching found a scrap of paper tucked between the floorboards in one of the upstairs rooms, the only word written upon it was “”/campaign/loudwater-beyond/wikis/llorkh" class=“wiki-page-link”> Llorkh". The party decided to travel to the bandit town using the barge they had confiscated from the children smugglers, and set off to discover what link if any there was between the bandits and the Nighthawks.
Setting a steady pace they made good progress on the first day before tying up on the riverbank for the night. In the early hours of the morning, as Li took her turn on watch, several men were spotted approaching the barge from the darknened riverbank. Quickly rousing her companions, Li realised that the half dozen men were indeed Nighthawks, not the efficient killers that they had encountered before but still dangerous opponents, made even more so by the spellcaster accompanying them. The party made short work of the thugs but every time they tried to land a blow on the Magus it’s magic whisked it to safety. Only by the combined efforts of the party were they able to negate his viscious spells and bring him down with combined ranged attacks.
Next day they continued upriver until they heard the sounds of a womans screams for help from a nearby farm. As the heroes approached they saw a group of men in black cloaks with grey circles emblazoned, surrounding a farmhouse with lit torches in hand. A smaller farm building was already well alight. As Garusk and Fargrim charged forward, Li snuck around to a side door of the farmhouse. The men called out to the party that this was Iron Circle business and none of theirs, Garusks answer came at the end of his mighty weapon. Father Tully and Wrynn supplied support to their fighting companions but were soon engaged by two wolves that the Iron Circle bandits had brought with them. The battle was bloody but short as the outclassed bandits fell to the heroes blows. Li managed to calm the woman and two small boys in the farmhouse, and once the fighting was over the homesteader offered the party a home-cooked meal as way of thanks, explaining the the Iron Circle were former roving bandits that had gone civilized and now ran the town of Llorkh, based from the old Keep that overlooked the small town. The bandits had arrived to demand “protection” money and when she had refused they had begun to burn her outbuildings. After disposing of the bodies and bidding the family goodbye the party continued onwards.
Reaching as far as the river could take them, they moored the barge, Æðelric remained onboard, utilising the time to commune with his spirit guides and study more of the rituals he had taken from the Warlocks tower. The rest of the party headed off on foot. Not long thereafter they saw a guarded wagon approaching with more of the black cloaked bandits escorting another figure in a red surcoat with some sort of mechanical hound leading the way. At Li’s urging the party stood aside to allow the group to pass unmolested but as they drew level one of the bandits was struck by a crossbow bolt. Tensions were raised and as both sides went on the offensive Li noticed a figure secluded in a nearby tree.
As the mechanical hound attacked Father Tully, knocking him to the ground, Garusk sprang to his comrades aid, his mighty mordenkrad clanging against the mettalic hide of the creature. Hoping to avoid uneccesary bloodshed Li ran towards the hidden figure shouting as she went for the bandits to realise where the attack had come from. Fargrim followed as swiftly as he could but suddenly found a crossbow bolt buried in his leg and the unmistakeable sensation of a poison pumping through his system, robbing him of his strength.
Barely pausing for breath, Li nimbly climbed the tree to engage their hidden foe, she was now able to see that it was another of the Nighthawks and her sudden assault pushed him from the safety of his concealed perch. The fall to the ground was barely noticed amidst the rain of blows Li continued to rain upon him, aided by one of the bandits. As the sniper slid lifeless to the floor the red-dressed man signalled for his escort to stand down. Thanking the party for their timely assistance he appeared surprised to hear of the Nighthawks but Li assured him that were a threat to the areas stability. He invited the party to accompany him back to Llorkh for their mutual safety, choosing to cut short his patrol in favour of alerting his superiors of this new threat to their power base. As they approached Llorkh he advised them that the Iron Circle had stepped into the power void left by the Zhentarim since the Spellplague had caused them to lose their foothold this side of Returned Netheril. Bringing a semblance of order and civility to the leaderless town. Leaving them outside the town tavern he thanked them once again before ascending the steep pathway to the keep overlooking the town from the cliff above.
Inside the tavern the party took seats at a table, the only other patrons being a coupe of off-duty Iron Circle soldiers. As they sat enjoying their drinks the quiet ambience of the common room was spoilt as a group of swaggering bandits entered, walking directly to the party’s table as their self-elected leader declared “Thats our table!”, despite the partys politeness the thugs were spoiling for a fight, and were soon rewarded as combat erupted, though the heroes were careful to pull their blows, not wanting to cause too much trouble. The brawl was shortlived as it soon became obvious that the party outclassed the thugs and those not lying unconcious on the barroom floor decided they had urgent business elsewhere.
As our heroes apologised to the barkeep, they enquired if he had seen anyone bearing the Nighthawk symbol in town. Indeed, a week before three such men had been in the bar (one of which matched the description of the man Li had followed), they had been accompanied by a fourth man who seemed to be left out of their conversations but had still left with them when they went to the Trading Post in town. Thanking the barkeep, the heroes headed off.
The chubby little man that ran the Trading Post had a selective memory though after a little cash had changed hands his recollection became clearer. The suspected Nighthawks had purchased supplies and equipment for a journey into Thunderspire, an ancient Minotaur stronghold under the nearby Greypeak Mountains, now rumoured to be home to orcs, and worse!
With plenty to think over the heroes retired to the nearby Inn to plan their next moves.